Hurricane Matthew is slowly churning it way towards the U.S. with sustained winds of 140 mph or more, and the potential for major damage and loss of life exists for many coastal areas.
Hurricanes can certainly be dangerous, but they don’t have to be life-threatening for those who prepare. Unlike tornadoes, which can pop up suddenly, hurricanes are first identified when they are hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. We can watch their development and have a good idea of how bad the situation might be and how much time we have to get ready.
Even before it’s clear that your area is in danger of being hit by the storm, you should have considered factors like food, water, power, and shelter. By having a plan of action beforehand, you’ll decrease the risk to your family significantly.
Here are a few (actually, 28!) tips to help those preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best:
HITTING THE ROAD
1.Make a G.O.O.D. (Get Out Of Dodge) decision: Rugged individualists may want to ride out the storm, but some coastal residents would be best served by hitting the road. When the authorities say it’s time to evacuate, you should be ready to go. Don’t forget to turn off the power, gas, and water before you leave.
2.Head inland: Hurricanes gain their strength by warm ocean waters, and lose strength quickly as they get further into the interior. If you’re escaping the storm, the further inland you go, the safer you’ll be. If there isn’t time, most coastal municipalities will have designated a sturdy building as a hurricane shelter.
3.Have a “GO” bag: Always have a set of supplies ready to take with you on short notice. Non-perishable food, bottled water, extra clothing, flashlights and batteries, a NOAA weather radio, medicines, and a first aid kit are just a few of the items that will ensure your survival. Although you’ll see recommendations to have a 72 hour supply, this figure is arbitrary, and a week’s worth would be even better.
4.Have a cell phone charger: Communication is key. Many cell phone chargers can be plugged into the car where the cigarette lighter used to be.
5.Have cash on hand: Power for credit card verification could be down after a hurricane; if you don’t keep some cash on hand, you’ll have a power shortage: Purchasing power.
Let’s say you haven’t received an evacuation order, and you’re going to ride out the storm in place. Here are some considerations you want to take into account:
6.Keep it Cold: Have the refrigerator and freezer down to their coldest settings so that food will take longer to spoil.
7.Collect Ice: Collect ice in plastic bags and place them throughout to prolong freshness. If there are open spots, fill Tupperware containers or plastic soda bottles/milk jugs with water, freeze them, and place them in the spaces. The fuller the fridge is, the longer the items in it will stay cool.
8.Wrap It in Foil: Wrap food items in aluminum foil, eliminating air pockets, and cram the foil packs together as closely as possible.
9.Cook ‘Em and Freeze ‘Em: Cook meats before the hurricane gets close and freeze them. As cooking requires fuel, have some full propane tanks or charcoal briquettes in your supplies for when the power goes out.
10.Eat the Perishables Now: Eat the perishables first, canned foods later.
11.Keep It Closed: Don’t leave the refrigerator door open while deciding what food to take out. Visualize where a particular item is and then open the door. Close it as quickly as possible.
12.Water, Water everywhere: Have a stockpile of 5 gallon bottles of water or a plentiful supply of smaller bottles.
13.Fill the Tub: Fill all bathtubs with water. You might think this is overkill, but every member of your family needs 1 gallon of water per day. It goes fast.
14.Drink the Melted Ice: As refrigerated ice in containers melts, don’t waste it. Use it as an additional source of drinking water.
15.Hot Water Heaters Hold….Water!: Hot water heaters have gallons and gallons of drinkable water; don’t hesitate to raid them if you get low. First, turn off the electricity or gas. Attach a hose to the drain valve and release the vacuum in the tank by opening a hot water faucet. There might be some sediment at the bottom that should be drained out first.
16.Sterilize it: Have some household bleach available to sterilize questionable water (like from the water heater). 12-16 drops per gallon should do the job. Wait 30 minutes before drinking.
17.Have a water filter: handheld filters like the Lifestraw or Sawyer Mini, or larger ones like the Berkey can be useful to deal with cloudy water.
18.Put Up The Shutters: If you have hurricane shutters, put them up at least 24 hours before hurricane landfall. It’s no fun to have to stand on a ladder in gale force winds and pouring rain to install them. Been there, done that.
19.Move Furniture/Plants Inside: Move the patio furniture and potted plants indoors. If you can’t for some reason, chain them together against an outer wall downwind from the direction of the storm.
20.Prune Trees: Prune all trees near your home so that wind can easily flow through the crowns. Otherwise, expect some to be downed by the storm. Branches, fruit (in South Florida, coconuts!), and other debris can act as missiles in high winds.
21.Pick a “Safe Room”: Choose a room in the interior of the home, preferably one without unshuttered windows.
22.Place candles in pans: Candles can be knocked over by winds and cause fires. If you must use them, stick them in a pan with shiny sides that would be deep enough to cover the flame.
23.Have Tarps at the Ready: Large tarps can be used to cover windows and, after the storm, to cover any areas of the roof that might have been damaged.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
24.The Kids: Have board games, toys, and books to keep the children’s minds off scary winds. If you’re evacuating, let kids bring their favorite stuffed animals, blanket, or pillow to keep them calm.
25.Your Other Kids: Don’t forget to take into account the needs of your pets. Have food, water, and their favorite toy available, whether you leave or stay at home.
26.Your Other, Other Kid: Make sure your car is in good working order and filled with gas. Having some spare gas cans will be useful in case of a shortage at the pumps, and can be used to run generators (although never inside).
27.Your documents: Place important papers like birth certificates, passports, insurance documents, and others in waterproof containers. Scan them and send them in an email to yourself.
28.Keep your radio on: A NOAA weather radio, battery-powered or hand-cranked, will be an important source of information on the progress of the storm, and for community updates.
Being prepared for a hurricane can make sure that the storm will be just a bump in the road, and not the end of the road for you and your family. Have a plan of action, get some supplies, and you’ll join the ranks of the few, the proud, the prepared!
Joe Alton, MD
Find out more about hurricane preparedness and many other natural disasters in the new Third Edition of The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide For When Help is Not on the Way, available on this website or at amazon.com.